Tag Archives: writing

Monday morning writing joke: “Never alone”

There once was a writer named Stone

Who tried writing on his smart phone.

It started off fine

But then he got behind:

All the apps wouldn’t leave him alone.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020, Monday morning writing joke, Poetry by David E. Booker

A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it

‘Like most other American systems and professions, delusions around meritocracy continue to pervade the writing world. ‘ Illustration: Julien Posture/The Guardian

There is nothing more sustaining to long-term creative work than time and space – and these things cost money

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/27/a-dirty-secret-you-can-only-be-a-writer-if-you-can-afford-it?utm_source=pocket-newtab

Let’s start with me: I’m not sure how or if I’d still be a writer without the help of other people’s money. I have zero undergrad debt. Of my three years of grad school, two of them were funded through a teaching fellowship; my parents helped pay for the first. The last two years my stipend barely covered the childcare I needed to travel uptown three days a week to teach and go to class and my husband’s job is what kept us afloat.

I got connections from that program. I got my agent through the recommendation of a professor. Nearly every year since I graduated from that program, I have been employed by them. The thing I’m most sure I had though, that was a direct result of my extraordinary privilege, is the blindness with which I bounded toward this profession, the not knowing, because I had never felt, until I was a grownup, the very real and bone-deep fear of not knowing how you’ll live from month to month. Other versions of this story that I know from other people: a down payment from a grandpa on a brownstone; monthly parental stipends; a partner who works at a startup; a partner who’s a corporate lawyer; a wealthy former boss who got attached and agreed to pay their grad school off.

Once, before a debut novelist panel geared specifically to aspiring writers, one of the novelists with whom I was set to speak mentioned to me that they’d hired a private publicist to promote their book. They told me it cost nearly their whole advance but was worth it, they said, because this private publicist got them on a widely watched talkshow. During this panel, this writer mentioned to the crowd at one point that they “wrote and taught exclusively”, and I kept my eyes on my hands folded in my lap. I knew this writer did much of the same teaching I did, gig work, often for between $1,500-$3,000 for a six to eight-week course; nowhere near enough to sustain one’s self in New York. I knew their whole advance was gone, and that, if the publicist did pay off, it would be months before they might accrue returns.

I did not know what this writer, who I thought was single, paid in rent, or all the other ways that they might have been able to cut corners, that I, a mother of two, could not cut, but even then, it felt impossible to me that this writer was sustaining themselves in any legitimate way without some outside help. I thought, maybe, when they said “write” they might be including copywriting or tech, as some others that I know support themselves.

I knew all these aspiring writers, though, heard this person say this and assumed that there was a way to make a living as a writer, that they thought this person was “making it” in ways they hoped one day to be. I don’t know this writer and don’t know how, actually, they lived. What I do know is, when the panel was over, I wanted to take the microphone back and say loudly to the students that what this writer said was, at least in part, a lie.

On Instagram and Twitter there are writers who “write full time” also. They post pictures of their desk or their pens and talk about “process”. Maybe, two years ago, they sold a quiet literary novel to an independent press. For my students, for all the people I see out there, trying to break in or through and watching, envious, I want to attach to these statements and these Instagram posts, a caveat that says the writing isn’t what is keeping this person safe and clothed and fed.

According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017.

I would argue that there is nothing more sustaining to long-term creative work than time and space – these things cost money – and the fact that some people have access to it for reasons that are often outside of their control continues to create an ecosystem in which the tenor of the voices that we hear from most often remains similar. It is no wonder, I say often to students, that so much of the canon is about rich white people. Who else, after all, has the time and space to finish a book. Who else, after all, as the book is coming out, has the time and space and money to promote and publicize that book?The median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017

There are ramifications, I think, of no one mentioning the source of this freedom when they have it. There is the perpetuation of an illusion that makes an unsustainable life choice appear sustainable, that makes the specific achievements of particular individuals seem more remunerative than they actually are. There is the feeling that the choices that we’ve made outside of writing: who we married, whether or not we had children, the families we were born to, will forever hinder our ability to make good work.

When students ask me for advice with regard to how to “make it as a writer”, I tell them to get a job that also gives them time and space somehow to write; I tell them find a job that, if they still have it 10 years from now, it wouldn’t make them sad. I worry often that they think this means I don’t think their work is worthy; that I don’t believe they’ll make it in the way that they imagine making it, but this advice is me trying help them sustain themselves enough to make the work I know they can.

Like most other American systems and professions, delusions around meritocracy continue to pervade the writing world. Those of us who are not bolstered by outside sources, those of us who are but still struggle, and say it out loud, often run the risk of seeming whiny or ungrateful; maybe we worry we will just be thought not good enough. To be a writer is a choice, after all, and I continue to make it. But perpetuating the delusion that the choice is not impossibly risky, precarity-inducing, only hurts the participants’ ability to reconsider the various shapes their lives might take in service of sustaining it and them.

It allows a system that cannot sustain most of the producers of its products to continue to pretend it can.

  • Lynn Steger Strong is the author of the novel Want, to be released in July 2020

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020

The Single Reason Why People Can’t Write, According to a Harvard Psychologist

This common affliction is behind so much unclear and confusing writing in the world today.

Steven Pinker

Author and psychologist Steven Pinker. Getty Images

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-single-reason-why-people-can-t-write-according-to-a-harvard-psychologist?utm_source=pocket-newtab

“Why is so much writing so hard to understand? Why must a typical reader struggle to follow an academic article, the fine print on a tax return, or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?”

These are questions Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker asks in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They’re questions I’ve often encountered –and attempted to tackle– throughout my career as a business writer and editor. Whenever I see writing that is loaded with jargon, clichés, technical terms, and abbreviations, two questions come immediately to mind. First, what is the writer trying to say, exactly? And second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader?

For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

“Every human pastime –music, cooking, sports, art, theoretical physics –develops an argot to spare its enthusiasts from having to say or type a long-winded description every time they refer to a familiar concept in each other’s company. The problem is that as we become proficient at our job or hobby we come to use these catchwords so often that they flow out of our fingers automatically, and we forget that our readers may not be members of the clubhouse in which we learned them.”

People in business seem particularly prone to this “affliction.” You could argue that business has developed its own entirely unique dialect of English. People are exposed to an alphabet soup of terms and acronyms at business school, which they then put into use in their day-to-day interactions once they enter the working world.

And what starts out as a means of facilitating verbal communication between people becomes the primary mode with which people communicate their ideas in writing, from email to chat apps to business proposals and presentations.

“How can we lift the curse of knowledge?” asks Pinker. “A considerate writer will…cultivate the habit of adding a few words of explanation to common technical terms, as in ‘Arabidopsis, a flowering mustard plant,’ rather than the bare ‘Arabidopsis.’ It’s not just an act of magnanimity: A writer who explains technical terms can multiply her readership a thousandfold at the cost of a handful of characters, the literary equivalent of picking up hundred-dollar bills on the sidewalk.”

“Readers will also thank a writer for the copious use of for example, as in, and such as, because an explanation without an example is little better than no explanation at all.”

Whenever I write a sentence that makes me pause and wonder about what it means, I assume that other readers might react in the same way. If a sentence is not clear to me, it might not be clear to others. It’s an approach that I recommend to anyone who is trying to improve his own writing.

Before hitting publish and sending your writing out to the world, it’s better to be honest with yourself about how much your reader is likely to understand a given passage or sentence. Before you commit your writing to print– or to the internet– take a few moments to make sure that what you write is clear and understandable by as many of your intended readers as possible.

As Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize-winning physicist, once wrote, “If you ever hear yourself saying, ‘I think I understand this,’ that means you don’t.”

Glenn Leibowitz

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020, writing tip, Writing Tip Wednesday

Monday morning writing joke: “It ain’t write, I tell you”

Two writers went to the same doctor’s office on the same day. She told each one he didn’t have long to live.

“It’s awful,” said the first writer. “I’m right in the middle of a novel and she’s only given me six months to live. I’ll never get it finished. What about you?”

“It’s awful for me, too,” said the second writer. “She gave me three years to live.”

“Three years!” the first writer said. “Three years! What’s so awful about that?”

“I write short stories,” the second writer said. “And I’m fresh out of ideas.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020, joke by author, Monday morning writing joke

The Single Reason Why People Can’t Write, According to a Harvard Psychologist

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-single-reason-why-people-can-t-write-according-to-a-harvard-psychologist?utm_source=pocket-newtab

“Why is so much writing so hard to understand? Why must a typical reader struggle to follow an academic article, the fine print on a tax return, or the instructions for setting up a wireless home network?”

These are questions Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker asks in his book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. They’re questions I’ve often encountered –and attempted to tackle– throughout my career as a business writer and editor. Whenever I see writing that is loaded with jargon, clichés, technical terms, and abbreviations, two questions come immediately to mind. First, what is the writer trying to say, exactly? And second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader?

For Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

“Every human pastime –music, cooking, sports, art, theoretical physics –develops an argot to spare its enthusiasts from having to say or type a long-winded description every time they refer to a familiar concept in each other’s company. The problem is that as we become proficient at our job or hobby we come to use these catchwords so often that they flow out of our fingers automatically, and we forget that our readers may not be members of the clubhouse in which we learned them.”

People in business seem particularly prone to this “affliction.” You could argue that business has developed its own entirely unique dialect of English. People are exposed to an alphabet soup of terms and acronyms at business school, which they then put into use in their day-to-day interactions once they enter the working world.

And what starts out as a means of facilitating verbal communication between people becomes the primary mode with which people communicate their ideas in writing, from email to chat apps to business proposals and presentations.

“How can we lift the curse of knowledge?” asks Pinker. “A considerate writer will…cultivate the habit of adding a few words of explanation to common technical terms, as in ‘Arabidopsis, a flowering mustard plant,’ rather than the bare ‘Arabidopsis.’ It’s not just an act of magnanimity: A writer who explains technical terms can multiply her readership a thousandfold at the cost of a handful of characters, the literary equivalent of picking up hundred-dollar bills on the sidewalk.”

“Readers will also thank a writer for the copious use of for example, as in, and such as, because an explanation without an example is little better than no explanation at all.”

Whenever I write a sentence that makes me pause and wonder about what it means, I assume that other readers might react in the same way. If a sentence is not clear to me, it might not be clear to others. It’s an approach that I recommend to anyone who is trying to improve his own writing.

Before hitting publish and sending your writing out to the world, it’s better to be honest with yourself about how much your reader is likely to understand a given passage or sentence. Before you commit your writing to print– or to the internet– take a few moments to make sure that what you write is clear and understandable by as many of your intended readers as possible.

As Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize-winning physicist, once wrote, “If you ever hear yourself saying, ‘I think I understand this,’ that means you don’t.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020, writing

Haiku to you Thursday: “Last”

If I were the last /

Would morning dew still matter? /

Asked the blade of grass.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2020, Haiku to You Thursday, Poetry by David E. Booker

These 13 Books Will Make You a Better Writer in 2019 | Inc.com

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read about the craft.

Source: These 13 Books Will Make You a Better Writer in 2019 | Inc.com

  1. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips

Ernest Hemingway never codified his insights on writing into a book, but he did share his thinking on the topic in commissioned articles; letters to his agents, publishers, and friends; and through his novels. Ernest Hemingway on Writing is a collection of his insights on the craft of writing, and includes several practical and inspiring tips.

  1. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

The prolific science-fiction author Ray Bradbury collected the lessons he had learned about the craft during his long and successful career in Zen in the Art of Writing.

  1. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What You Can Do About It, by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield recently returned to writing about writing with a brand-new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. It’s a no-nonsense guide to writing stories that people will want to read. While the bulk of the book addresses how to write fiction, Pressfield shows how the same principles of writing good stories can apply to writing nonfiction.

  1. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity is the classic book by author and creativity coach Julia Cameron in which she introduces what she calls “morning pages.” Morning pages is a powerful stream of consciousness writing exercise that is not intended to yield publishable material, but which can help you get your pen moving and your thoughts flowing–even if you never intend to share them with the rest of the world.

  1. Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work, by Steven Pressfield

Ever since reading his classic book, The War of Art, I’ve read every book about writing by Steven Pressfield (and I will continue to read every one he writes, including the one he’s publishing soon, which he’s generously serializing on his blog). In that book he gave a name to what every writer grapples with. He called it Resistance.

To fight the Resistance, writers (and other artists, for he was addressing artists broadly in that book) need to give up their amateur mindsets and habits and “turn pro.” In Turning Pro, his follow-up to The War of Art, Pressfield fleshes out what he means exactly when he tells writers to “turn pro.”

  1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser

William Zinsser was a journalist, author, and writing instructor at Yale. His book On Writing Well is a classic among writers and has sold nearly 1.5 million copies in the 40 years since it was published. It’s one of the first books I recommend to anyone seeking to improve their writing.

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

Fifteen years ago, mega-best-selling author Stephen King wrote a book about the craft of writing that became an instant bestseller: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. After telling the story of how he became the writer he is today, King devotes the second half of the book to sharing his writing strategies, like his suggestion that you should write for your “Ideal Reader.”

  1. Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, by Sarah Stodola

This book looks at the techniques, inspirations, and daily routines of 18 iconic authors of the 20th century, including Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood.

After profiling so many successful authors, what did Stodola learn about their writing process? “Genius, I have concluded, is the presence of not one ability but several that work together in tandem. Genius is far more tedious, far less romantic, far more rote, far less effortless, than we imagine it.”

  1. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield, edited by Shawn Coyne

All writers struggle with writer’s block in one form or another, but Steven Pressfield named the enemy and outlined a strategy for conquering it in The War of Art, the perennially best-selling guide for writers and other creative professionals. In the first part of the book he introduces what he calls Resistance – the force within us that conspires to prevent us from fulfilling our creative pursuits – and then spends the next two sections sharing his solutions for overcoming it.

  1. The Art of Nonfiction, by Ayn Rand

As the late novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand describes in The Art of Nonfiction, an edited collection of lectures she gave on the craft of writing, part of the reason why it took so long to finish her second novel is because she often suffered from severe bouts of writer’s block.

  1. Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day, by Chris Fox.

In Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day, Chris Fox describes the 12-step process he created that has allowed him to make the transition from part-time writer to full-time author of several best-selling thriller novels and nonfiction writing guides.

At the beginning of the book, Chris describes what a habit is, and explains how you can reprogram your brain just like a computer to install new habits. Habits live in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, and they consist of three parts: The trigger, the routine, and the reward. The key to changing your habits is to identify which ones are good for you, which ones are bad, and then “flip” the bad ones to good ones.

  1. 8-Minute Writing Habit: Create a Consistent Writing Habit That Works With Your Busy Lifestyle, by Monica Leonelle

Monica Leonelle, a novelist and author of several books about writing, has written a book that speaks directly to those of us who struggle to get our writing done while balancing other commitments at work and home.

In the first part of The 8 Minute Writing Habit: Create a Consistent Writing Habit that Works With Your Busy Lifestyle, Leonelle describes several “blockers” that get in the way of our writing, thoughts like “writing might not pay off,” “I’m not good enough to be a writer,” and “I’m stuck in the planning/writing/editing phase.” For each blocker, she offers several practical tips for overcoming them. In the second part of the book, she shares nine strategies the pros use to write consistently.

  1. Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Verlyn Klinkenborg is an author and creative writing instructor at Yale. In the preface to Several Short Sentences About Writing, he argues that “most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful,” and then devotes the rest of the book to smashing assumptions and correcting misconceptions about the craft.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019, book list, writing, writing tip